1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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The Australian dairy industry

The Australian dairy industry is one of Australia's major intensive agricultural industries, with gross value of milk production in 2001-02 of $3.7b accounting for around 9% of total gross value of agricultural production. In addition, dairy farmers sell off large numbers of new born (vealer) calves for meat production each year. In 2001-02 these numbered 705,902 and were valued at around $51.2m.

Victoria is the dominant dairy state with 61% of the Australian dairy herd, most of it occurring in eastern Victoria. New South Wales and Queensland together account for a further 22%, followed by Tasmania with about 7% of the herd (map S14.1). Dairying requires relatively high rainfall (or access to irrigation), and fertile soils which are capable of carrying high numbers of cattle. In addition to good quality pastures and crops, cattle are fed supplementary food, including grain, to maintain protein levels in milk.

At 30 June 2002 the Australian dairy cattle herd numbered 3.1 million head, with 2.1 million being cows in milk or dry. In 2001-02 these cows produced 11.3 billion litres of whole milk, exceeding the previous record high of 10.8 billion litres in 1999-2000. Consumers drank approximately 18% of total whole milk production as fresh milk. The remainder was sold for the manufacture of butter, cheese, milk powders, and other dairy products. In 2000-01 over 50% of the annual milk production was exported, mainly in the form of milk powder and cheese.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey shows in May 2002 there were approximately 25,900 persons employed in the dairy industry. In addition, another 19,000 persons were employed in the dairy product manufacturing industry.

Map -S14.1 Dairy cattle distribution - 30 June 2001

      Source: Australian Dairy Corporation.

History of milk production in Australia

Since European settlement in 1788, the production of milk has been one of Australia's most important farming practices. When the First Fleet established itself at Farm Cove, Port Jackson, it brought one bull, four cows and one calf (ABS Year Book No.1). These animals were to supply milk to the new colony and to serve as foundation stock for future herds.

There were many setbacks in the first year (poor soils and pastures being a major concern) and within the first four months of settlement the original herd had wandered off in search of better food. Seven years later the herd was found near the Nepean River, numbering 40 cows and 2 bulls. During those early years, famine, drought and a lack of farming experience meant that many of the initial shipments of cattle were slaughtered for meat. After these initial difficulties, the cattle herd increased from 200 cows in 1796, to 1,044 cattle in 1800 and rapidly to 34,500 head by 1825.

As more lands were explored and opened up, the expansion continued southward into Tasmania and Victoria. In 1834, Edward Henty settled the area of Portland in south-western Victoria to become one of Victoria's first farmers. He produced small amounts of butter and cheese and eventually exported a cask of cheese to Tasmania; it was Victoria's first export. By 1836 the district of Port Phillip in Victoria had 155 head of cattle with a substantial number of those being used to produce milk, butter and cheese. From 155 head of cattle in 1836, the number of milk and beef cattle in Victoria quickly rose to 116,000 by 1861. South Australia's and Tasmania's dairying development roughly paralleled Victoria's during the latter half of the 19th century. The industry in Queensland prior to 1900 was confined mainly to the Darling Downs and Moreton districts, while in Western Australia it was the development of the soldier settlement programs after World War I that helped kickstart the dairy industry in that state.

Graph - S14.2 Dairy cattle in milk or dry

Up until the 1880s, dairying had remained a local industry, with dairy products such as cream, milk, butter and cheese being produced on the farm. Dairying, on a commercial basis, only flourished in regions close to markets where products could arrive before spoiling. The lack of refrigeration meant that dairy products could not be transported and distributed over great distances and as a result, much of the butter exported to Britain prior to 1881, ended up being used as axle grease on its arrival.

It was the introduction of a number of technological developments during the 1880s and 1890s that enabled the industry to expand rapidly and establish itself on a commercial basis (graph S16.2).

The first and most important development was the introduction of refrigeration. This resulted in the first successful shipment of butter which arrived in England in January 1881 on the ship S.S. Protos. The second was the replacement of native pastures with more productive exotic species of paspalum, English ryegrass, and clover. This allowed farmers to dramatically increase stocking rates and milk production from the available land used for dairying purposes. The third development was the advent of the hand operated cream separator in 1881, which enabled small farmers to produce cream efficiently on the farm. This opened the way for the establishment of factories to which the cream was transported for making into butter and cheese.

As these technologies were adopted and improved upon, farmers began to increase productivity and their profit margin. Three acres of improved pasture were capable of supporting a cow which produced 125 lbs (55 kg) of butterfat per annum. Depending on the size of the farm and the availability of labour, a dairy farmer in New South Wales milking 30 cows in the late-1800s could expect a net farm income of 136 per annum (Davidson 1992), compared to the average wage of 39 for farm labourers and 47 for milkers in the mid-1890s.

By the 1890s, 40% of the butter manufactured in New South Wales was being produced in factories, with the remainder still being produced on farms. Ten years later, at the turn of the century, nearly all dairy products were made in factories, and a high proportion of these new factories were built, owned and operated by farmer co-operatives producing butter, cheese and bacon. Pasteurisation of milk also contributed to greater hygiene in the distribution of milk, allowing expansion of the domestic milk market.

The co-operatives usually transported the cream from farm to factories in their own vehicles. The co-operatives would manufacture the produce, hold it in cold storage, sell, and then transport it to wholesalers and retailers. In some instances the co-operatives also ran their own retail operations, selling and delivering bread and groceries to farmers. In many cases, co-operatives also organised the sale and shipment of surplus produce to Britain.

In the early days it was neighbouring farmers that supplied milk to the towns and cities of Australia. As these increased in size, dairies within the metropolitan areas milking stall-fed cows met the demand. With the construction of the railway system, it also became possible to quickly transport fresh milk to the cities from the country. Sydney, after World War I, was a good example of how milk supply to the larger populated centres operated:
      ... by 1921, 60% of the 49,000 gallons of milk consumed each day by the one million people of Sydney was railed from the Illawarra region and the Hunter Valley. The remainder was produced by 7,680 cows milked in 414 dairies within the metropolitan area itself (Davidson 1992).
Typically, the large co-operatives would collect the milk from farmers at railway stations, weigh it, sample it, flash pasteurise it, cool it down and then rail it in 700 gallon (3,200 litre) tin-lined copper containers to a central depot. On arrival at the central depot it would be cooled again and then distributed to one of their milk depots in the suburbs. The co-operatives retail centres would then collect the milk in 40 gallon tanks from the depot and deliver the milk in smaller containers to the customer's door (Davidson 1992).

Another factor that encouraged rapid growth in the dairy industry was the introduction of the milking machine. Although the first milking machines were patented in 1836, milking machines were not introduced into Australia until around 1900. Surprisingly, given the major reason farmers could not increase their herd sizes was the time needed to milk twice daily by hand, milking machines even then did not win immediate acceptance. It was not until the late-1930s, by which time electricity was more readily available to farms, that milking by machine was adopted as the norm.

In 1924 another milestone was reached with the introduction of the Dairy Produce Export Control Act 1924-1938 (Cwlth), which aimed to organise the overseas marketing of Australian dairy produce. Soon afterwards a Dairy Produce Control Board was appointed which had responsibility for the organisation and supervision of the overseas marketing of dairy produce. This board, in conjunction with the Australian Dairy Council, which advised the government on problems connected with the production of dairy goods, helped facilitate the production and marketing of Australian dairy produce in the years leading up to World War II.

In 1935 these two bodies were combined to form the Australian Dairy Produce Board (later to become the Australian Dairy Corporation), which was responsible for the control of all butter and cheese exports to the United Kingdom (UK). Not long after its establishment, and with the onset of the World War II, the Australian and British governments entered into a number of contracts whereby the latter agreed to purchase Australia's surplus quantities of butter and cheese at prices fixed according to grade. The marketing agreements struck in the late-1930s between Britain and Australia for Australia's dairy produce, and the war time contracts that were entered into were a great boost to Australia's dairy farmers and helped stabilise the industry from the uncertain times experienced during the depression years.

Prior to the 1970s, the dairy industry was made up of large numbers of small family owned farms milking under 70 cows. A significant proportion of these were mixed farms producing cream for the manufacture of butter and cheese, with the skim milk typically being fed to pigs. This type of enterprise depended both on the export of butter and cheese to the United Kingdom (UK), and a heavily protected domestic market. Once the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973-74, many of these small family farms were no longer viable, and many dairy farms turned to beef production or other agricultural activities, to survive. For the five years preceding 1973-74, UK imports of butter and butter fat products from Australia averaged 44,000 tonnes per year, but when the UK joined the EEC, these imports virtually ceased.

The loss of this large export market was not altogether a disaster. At the same time as this shift in economic ties between the UK and Australia, Australian dairy producers were actively seeking and exploiting new markets such as Hong Kong, Japan and Saudi Arabia which would prove a boon for Australian dairy farmers for the next 30 years.

Today the dairy industry is a large scale, intensive operation using the latest technology to produce whole milk. Cattle are milked in large dairies which can milk up to 800 cattle per hour, with some operating 24 hours a day with three equally spaced milkings every 24 hours.

From industry regulation to deregulation

A look at the dairy industry of Australia prior to 1 July 2000 reveals an industry governed by two separate sectors, the regulated market/fresh milk sector and the non-regulated manufactured milk sector; six separate dairy industries, one in each state; and high levels of Australian Government assistance and complex state government regulatory intervention. Regulation came in two forms; state government support of the market/fresh milk sector and Australian Government support of the manufactured milk sector.

In the 1980s and 1990s state governments had the responsibility of controlling price and food quality, and for formulating policy for the market/fresh milk sector. State marketing authorities such as the Victorian Dairy Industry Authority, and the New South Wales Dairy Corporation were set up to administer the regulation of the sector and exercised a high degree of control on the marketing of milk in their states, including the licensing of dairy farmers to control production and regulate milk quality.

Up until deregulation, dairy farmers selling their milk as market milk received a substantially higher farm gate price than the average price paid for manufactured milk, even though there was little distinction between the two products. Across Australia under this regulated market, a number of different schemes existed which allocated the large guaranteed price premium proportionally to all dairy farmers, encouraging farmers to produce more milk than would be produced under free-market conditions. State governments also engaged in establishing legislation that regulated interstate access to their market milk sectors. The manufactured milk sector on the other hand was characterised by open access, with products from this sector being traded freely within and between states.

Although the manufactured milk sector was characterised by open access, it was not totally devoid of policies that distorted the market for dairy products. Up until July 2000, measures to support domestic prices, restrict imports, subsidise exports and restrict the production of substitutes were used. A long-term feature of this sector was 'domestic market support', introduced as part of the Kerin Plan, a marketing plan introduced in July 1986 by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy:
      ...in an effort to make the industry more market responsive and ensure that all sectors of the industry supported export returns (Reid 1990).
A levy was paid by all farmers on all milk produced and this money was later distributed to processors as an export subsidy. The levy worked by making it profitable for milk processors specialising in exporting dairy products, to divert milk from the domestic market. The Kerin Plan also included legislation allowing states to terminate the 'all milk levy' if they believed the market/whole milk premium was being threatened by milk inflows from interstate.

By the early- to mid-1990s it was clear a fall in the price of market milk, relative to manufactured milk, was required and price controls and supply quotas needed to be removed or substantially reduced. The Australian Government began phasing out market support in the dairy industry, in line with its commitments to wind down protection in the manufacturing industries and other areas of agriculture. Export subsidies were terminated in July 1995. However, the 'all milk levy' imposed to support the price received by producers of manufactured milk was still maintained in essentially the same way up until mid-2000. While a number of state dairy authorities were reluctant to accept deregulation, changes were occurring within the industry. Due to uncertainties regarding the future of regulation, the value of milk quotas, which controlled production in the major market milk producing states of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, began to fall.
The deregulation of fresh milk pricing from 1 July 2000 had a major affect on farm gate prices for fresh milk. In 2000, around 18% of Australia's total milk production was consumed as fresh milk. Victoria's proportion of fresh milk to total milk production was only 6% compared with much higher proportions (about 45%) in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. Under regulation, all dairy farmers received a separate price for fresh and manufactured milk. After deregulation, most Victorian manufacturers offered dairy farmers a single, blended price for all milk, which reflected the emphasis of milk being used for manufacturing dairy products and the prices received from the exports of these dairy products in the rest of the world (Edwards 2001).

After much political lobbying by the dairy industry, the Australian Government promised substantial adjustment payments to dairy farmers on the condition that state governments agreed to deregulate their industries. Established under the Dairy Industry Adjustment Act 2000 (Cwlth) in April 2000, the Dairy Adjustment Authority (DAA) administered applications for assistance from dairy farmers under the Dairy Structural Adjustment Program (DSAP) Scheme. In July 2001, the Dairy Produce Legislation Amendment (Supplementary Assistance) Act 2001 (Cwlth), provided the legislative framework for the DAA to administer additional assistance measures to dairy producers under the Supplementary Dairy Assistance Scheme. To date, the DAA has, under the DSAP, committed $1.6b and another $111m under the Supplementary Dairy Assistance Scheme to be distributed over the eight years from 2000 to 2008. The dairy industry today is fully deregulated, and every dairy farmer's farm gate price for milk is now, due to natural forces of supply and demand, affected by world prices no matter where they live within Australia.

Industry structure

There has been a marked decline in the number of dairy establishments in Australia since the 1970s, stabilising at around 13,000 to 14,000 during the 1990s. Following deregulation of the industry in 2000, the number of dairy establishments dropped to just under 13,000 at 30 June 2001, to account for 9% of the total number of agricultural establishments. This decline in the past three decades has been a result of reductions in government support to the industry (including full domestic deregulation in 2000) and the consequent exposure to market forces, which have made the industry become more competitive through larger-scale operations.

In 2000-01, the majority of dairy farms had an estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) between $100,000-$499,999, accounting for 73% of all dairy establishments and 68% of the dairy herd. Dairy cattle farms with an EVAO of less than $100,000 accounted for 18% of all dairy establishments but only 4% of the national dairy herd. At the other end of the scale, dairy cattle farms with an EVAO of $500,000 or more, accounted for just on 9% of all dairy establishments and 28% of the dairy herd.

Over the last three decades the size of the average dairy cattle herd has increased, with an average annual growth rate of just under 4%. In 1970-71 the average herd size numbered 71 head of dairy cattle with 11% of establishments stocking 150 or more dairy cattle. In 2001-02, the average herd size numbered 263 head of dairy cattle with about half the number of establishments stocking more than 200 dairy cattle (graph S14.3). Today, the industry produces 83% more milk than 15 years ago, with 37% fewer dairy establishments and with a 92% larger herd on average.

Graph - S14.3 Average dairy herd size

Dairy breeds

Since the beginning of the Australian dairy industry, Australian dairy breeds have been undergoing constant improvement and refinement, using the very best of Australian and overseas genetics.

The dairy industry, like many Australian industries, was originally modelled along British lines. The first dairy cattle introduced into Australia in significant numbers were mainly British breeds such as Jersey, Guernsey, Dairy Shorthorn, Longhorn and Ayreshire. These cattle, along with Holstein Friesian cattle from Holland and Germany, were all good milk producers and were characteristic of Australia's dairying in the 19th century through to the mid-1990s.

During the first 150 years of dairying in Australia, the Jersey proved most popular, particularly in Victoria. However during the latter half of the 20th century, British breeds with their higher than average fat and protein production levels were beginning to be replaced with new Australian breeds and Holstein Friesians, as the emphasis moved away from butter production and more towards increasing milk production levels per cow. Today, the Holstein Friesian comprises roughly two-thirds of the total milking dairy cattle population of 2.2 million head and is widely spread across all dairying areas of Australia (The Weekly Times, January 9, 2002).

The dairy product manufacturing industry

As with the dairy farming industry, the dairy product manufacturing industry has undergone significant rationalisation, through mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances between dairy processing businesses. In 1999-2000, just 206 processing establishments (35% less than in 1975) were operated by about 120 dairy processing companies. This industry, which is mostly made up of milk and cream processors, and butter, cheese and milk powder manufacturers, employed just on 19,400 persons at 30 June 2001 (10.2% of the total food, beverage and tobacco manufacturing workforce) and paid out $832m in wages and salaries.

In line with Victoria's status as the largest milk producing state, dairy product manufacturing establishments in Victoria produced 64% of the total manufactured milk production, followed by New South Wales and Queensland, contributing 13% and 7% respectively.

Dairy consumption

Dairy products have always been a staple food source in the Western diet and, as refrigeration became common place in households, people in the developed world moved away from keeping a 'house cow' in the back yard for their dairy needs. Instead, they began to rely more heavily on the commercial production of milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products.

Traditionally, most milk and dairy produce has been consumed in Western countries and, in particular, in the regions of the European Union (EU) and North America where consumers relied heavily on dairy products as a source of calcium and protein. Over the last decade, dairy product per capita intake in these countries has been estimated at over 200 kilogram per year, but recent international research has shown that the intake of liquid milk has been decreasing. This has occurred for two reasons; as a response to medical concerns relating to the adverse effects of excess fat in diets, and as a result of the increased availability of substitute non-dairy based products like soya bean-based drinks. This decline in the consumption of liquid milk has, to some extent, also been offset by an increase in the consumption of other dairy products like cheese and yoghurt, particularly following the growth of the yoghurt dessert and drink market.

Graph - S14.4 Per capita consumption of liquid whole milk

Countering this levelling-off of demand in the west has been the gradual increase in demand for dairy products in the developing world, particularly in Asia. A rise in incomes, changing food consumption habits and an increase in urbanisation has led to a strong boost in demand for milk and dairy products in countries including Japan, Republic of (South) Korea, Thailand, China and India. In Japan, in particular, there has been a 15-fold increase in annual per capita milk consumption, from five litres in 1960 to 75 litres in 2000.

Despite cheese consumption almost doubling in Australia over the last 20 years, Australia's overall consumption of dairy produce has remained relatively steady. Milk consumption has hovered in the range of 100-104 litres per capita (graph S14.4) and butter is regaining some of the market share lost to margarine, through the introduction of dairy/margarine blends (graph S14.5).

Graph S14.5 Per capita consumption of selected products

International trade in dairy products

Australia and New Zealand dominate the world market in milk and although their production represents only 4% of world milk production, these two countries together export nearly half of all internationally traded dairy products.

The Australian dairy industry is now firmly established as the world's third largest dairy trader (behind New Zealand and the EU), with more than 50% of its milk production in 2002 being exported. During the 12-month period to June 2002, the Australian industry exported 968,000 tonnes of dairy products, worth $3.2b. This compares to $2.3b for the same period two years earlier. According to market economists, the main reasons behind the surge in dairy exports were favourable exchange rates and firm global prices for dairy products.

The pattern of Australia's dairy exports is vastly different today compared to the early-1900s, when the majority of Australia's exports went to the UK (and former British colonies). Since the early-1980s and throughout the 1990s, an increasing proportion of Australian dairy produce has been exported to markets in Asia. In volume terms, by far the majority (70%) of Australia's dairy exports are now going to Asian nations, such as Japan (17%), the Philippines (13%), Singapore (8%), Indonesia (8%), Malaysia (7%) and Taiwan (5%). In 2001-02, of the $1.9b worth of 'milk and cream' and 'milk products (other than butter and cheese)' and $1.0b worth of 'cheese and curd' that was exported, more than half was sent to Asia. Today, Japan is the largest single market for Australian dairy produce, importing approximately $560m of Australian dairy products in 2001-02, with 'cheese and curd' comprising the majority of this trade. The Philippines was the second largest market for Australian dairy exports (worth $338m or 10% of Australia's dairy exports), followed by Saudi Arabia ($220m).

The concentration of trade to Asia reflects both Australia's geographic proximity to these markets and the restrictions placed on Australia's dairy produce in other markets like the EU and the United States of America (US) by the use of protectionist policies and export subsidies.

Over the last 100 years there has also been a significant change in the types of Australian dairy products exported. During the first half of the 20th century, butter accounted for the vast majority of dairy exports. By 2001-02, exports of 'butter and other fats' made up only 11% of dairy exports, while 'condensed and concentrated milk and cream' and 'cheese and curd' made up 47% and 23%, respectively.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Australia exported 27.5 million litres of 'milk and cream' worth just on $18m, but by 1994 the volume had more than doubled to 65 million litres and was worth $51.8m. By 2001-02 the quantity of 'milk and cream' exported had grown to 87 million litres, worth $98m. The quantity and value of most other dairy product exports from Australia also increased significantly over the period 1989-90 to 1994-95. The quantity of whey increased from 14,400 tonnes to 35,200 tonnes, valued at $10m and $36m respectively; skimmed milk powder exports doubled from 83,700 tonnes ($196m) in 1989-90, to 166,000 tonnes ($374m in 1994-95; and 'cheese and curd' exports more than doubled from 53,3000 tonnes to 116,4000 tonnes and from $184m to $402m. Over the rest of the decade and into the 2000s, dairy exports continued to show steady growth, except for a brief and small decline in 2000-01, for nearly all products except skimmed milk powder and yoghurt. By 2001-02, the quantity and value of whey exports had increased to 45,800 tonnes and $85m, skimmed milk powder exports had increased to 199,000 tonnes and $674m and 'cheese and curd' exports had increased to 218,000 tonnes and $1.0b.




Milk and creamlitres
Milk and cream, in powder, granules or other solid form (excl. skimmed milk)tonnes
Skim milk powdertonnes
Butter and other fats and oilstonnes
Cheese and curdtonnes
Other dairy productstonnes

Source: ABS data available on request, International Trade.

In 2001-02, Australia imported 67,900 tonnes of dairy produce, valued at $297m. The main country of origin for Australia's dairy imports was New Zealand, which accounted for 81% of Australia's dairy imports, amounting to 55,000 tonnes and valued at $204m, and including 34,900 tonnes of 'cheese and curd' and 7,100 tonnes of 'butter and other fats and oils'. Speciality cheeses, like mozzarella, edam and fetta from European countries including Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and Bulgaria made up over 21% of the cheese and curd coming into Australia in 2001-02.

Outlook for the industry

Having faced a major deregulation in 2000, the dairy industry's short-term prospects will be strongly influenced by the continuing efforts to liberalise world trade in dairy products. While Australian milk production has increased by an average of on average of more than 4% per annum over the 15 years to 2001-02, the effects of drought caused a 10% decline in production to 10.1 billion litres in 2002-03. The latest predictions are that output for 2003-04 will remain at about this level.

With world dairy prices in decline since January 2001, because of weaker demand and increased supplies, the rising value of the Australian dollar and the threat of a continued decline for the remainder of 2003, it is becoming harder for Australian dairy producers to maintain their competitive advantage in milk production and dairy product manufacturing. High stocks of dairy products such as milk powders in the EU and the US, and butter in the EU, combined with higher subsidies for European and US farmers, indicate that world prices for dairy products are expected to be poorer into 2004.

The Australian dairy industry's outlook hinges on the effects of the drought that is affecting most major dairying areas in eastern Australia. Increased farm costs stemming from higher feed grain prices, combined with poor pasture conditions and lower farm gate prices are expected to result in average yields per cow falling by around 7%.


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